Give your barely-things-at-all to Jesus

Toward the end of Lent, I wrote about offering up penances and sacrifices to God. I often forget, even after being a Catholic for most of my life, to take this final step.

I tend to get so hyper-focused on doing the thing I’ve decided (or am obligated) to do—abstaining from meat, fasting, leaving the radio off or leaving my phone in the other room, or maybe not salting my dinner, or not getting in line first for dessert—that I forget to offer these little sacrifices up to God, even though that’s allegedly why I’m doing it in the first place.

“It’s just the same as if you were buying a present for someone, and then left it in the car. What’s the use in that?” I wrote.

“It doesn’t matter how thoughtful or expensive or beautifully wrapped it is, if it never gets to them. You have to actually deliver it, put it in their hands and tell them it is for them, from you.”

This is how it is with spiritual sacrifices. We must remember to complete them by actually deliberately putting them in the hands of God, just as we would do with any gift.

Now that we’re solidly into ordinary time, let’s stay with that metaphor, but wake it up a little. Let’s imagine that you are giving someone a present, and this time you do wrap it, and you do give it to them, and you do let it know it’s from you.

You remember to do all the stuff I remind you to do, above. But what’s inside is almost nothing.

Good news! I have reason to believe the recipient (and we’re talking about Jesus, here, if I didn’t make that clear) will be delighted. Delighted! There’s even a parable about this: The widow’s mite. She brings her two little coins to the temple because that’s what she has, and the Lord is delighted with her gift.

All of scripture is pretty clear about this: The God who cares about the sparrow and about the number of hairs on your head is not going to be snooty about being offered a small gift. It is sincerity he cares about, not volume.

Ah, but the two coins was the best the widow could do. What if you make some kind of small, feeble offering to the Lord and you’re capable of so much more? What if you do have much and you only give a little, because you’re weak and a little selfish and lazy, and you kind of want to love God, but you only love him a little bit? What will he say to a paltry little gift like that?

I think something like: “Thank you, my lovely love, my dearest dear, my sweetest sweet. I love it. Please come back again soon so I can see you again, and we will see what we can do together.” I think making a small effort despite weakness and selfish and laziness is a kind of widow’s mite, as well, and it will be received as such. 

He’s not stupid and he’s not a sucker. But he knows love when he sees it.  He IS love, and when something is given, he is there, and he seems to find love irresistible, even in tiny little amounts.

This is what Jesus does when we offer something to him. Remember, he doesn’t need anything. He isn’t lacking in anything, in any way. The only reason he wants you to give him things is so he can grow them and give them back to you.

Not like an investment bank, where you put in a cold, hard coin and get back two cold, hard coins, but like a seed, a little dry speck that you give to the ground and somehow, unreasonably, it becomes a living, growing, thriving tree and all the birds of the air come and roost in its branches.

This is a real thing that happens. I’ve seen it. You give little things, dumb things, lazy things, half-selfish things, paltry things, barely-willing things, barely-things-at-all to Jesus, and he makes them huge and thriving and alive. Not always overnight! Not even necessarily in your lifetime. But you can be sure that anything you turn over to him will not languish there, because letting things languish is not what he does. It is not who he is. But he does wait for you to decide to do it, because that’s what makes it a gift.

What else is there to say? All we have to lose is our dry little specks. Praise Jesus, who makes all things live.


Photo credit: Chiara Palandrani (distributed via (Creative Commons)
A version of this essay was originally published in The Catholic Weekly in April of 2023.

I am once again asking you to make a morning offering

Nobody in their right mind would look to me for advice on how to have a strong, consistent prayer life. All my life, I have struggled with prayer, and I have mostly won. (Think about what that means for a moment. It’s not good!)

But if you could zoom out and look over my life, you could see one thing: The times when I am most at peace and seeking God’s will most often are the times when I was consistently making a morning offering.

This is not a straight “if x, then y” causal connection, of course. It is not magic to make a morning offering. It may even be the other way around: I am more likely to make a morning offering when I’m at a time in my life when I am already feeling connected to God or when I’m already remembering consistently to turn to him to help with hope and trust. One thing I know is that there are not any shortcuts.

Nevertheless, if anyone asked me what was the one thing they could do to start off on a better path spiritually, I would recommend resolving to make a morning offering. It hits that sweet spot: It’s fast and it’s easy, but it takes a small amount of discipline on your part, which signals to you that it is worthwhile. But it also puts the ball in the Holy Spirit’s court, which, well, I am starting to think is the whole entire point of life.

It is also something you can do no matter what your current relationship with God is like. If you’re feeling distant, you can offer up your day as a wistful act of hope, no harm done. If you’re angry, you can do it defiantly: Hey, You! See this sack of garbage you left me with? How about you carry it for a while? [Flings life down at foot of cross with horrible splatting noise.] If you’re feeling lazy, you can do it because it’s quick and easy and better than nothing. If you’re feeling very connected, it can be a beautiful and profound way to begin another day with the Lord. If you’re feeling trusting, you can thank him in advance for whatever is about to come.

The big thing is, you don’t have to be…anything. You don’t have to have particular plans or expectations for your morning offering. It may even be better if you don’t. … Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

On being less zen about suffering

I forget what it was I was offering up, but I told the Lord, “I’m offering this up to you, and I’ll try to be zen about it.”

Then I heard what I said. So what? So I hadn’t had any coffee yet, and I momentarily forgot what religion I am. I only wish it were the dumbest thing He’s ever heard me say.

It made me stop and think, though, and I realized I had to do a little recalibrating of what I meant by “offering it up.” It’s fairly easy to start thinking of it in pop psychology terms: Something is bothering me and weighing me down, so I’m going to just mentally release it. Imagine it like a bright red balloon that sails up, up, up into the sky until it’s just a little pinpoint, and now — poof! — it’s gone, and no longer my problem.

This is . . . okay. It may very well be the most emotionally healthy thing to do at some particular moment. But it’s not precisely offering it up to God, for a couple of reasons. For one reason, God is not the wide blue sky. He is not an amorphous, impersonal, placid largeness whose function is to swallow up small things until they don’t matter anymore. (That’s not even what the sky is, either, but never mind that now.)

What do we mean when we say “offer it up?” Sometimes people will distort the concept, and use the phrase as shorthand for “suck it up” or “shut up.” People will say “offer it up” when what they really mean is, “I’m going to remind you that the spiritual thing to do is to quit whining about your stupid problems.”

That, as they say, ain’t it. We have the option to offer suffering up to God precisely because even our small suffering IS real suffering, and God knows this, and even (in a way that makes more or less sense to me at various times) suffers along with us. It’s not that we’re not supposed to minimize our troubles. It’s that suffering doesn’t have to be a dead end. It doesn’t have to stay entirely with us.

People sometimes say that Catholics are obsessed with suffering, or that we have an unhealthy fascination with death and pain. And sure, anything can be overdone or twisted or made unhealthy. But Catholics (when they’re not being crazy) don’t seek out suffering; they just do a good job of acknowledging that it exists. And they offer at least the possibility of a plan for what to do with it.

At its core, the Catholic understanding of suffering has two components… Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: Mary Magdalen at the foot of the cross, 1420 – 1430, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain

“Emotional rest” is our duty and our salvation

We often think of rest in terms of physical breaks – actually lying down, putting our feet up, breathing slowly, maybe cracking open a beer. While rest like this is vital, it’s at least as important to take a break from emotional drudgery and chaos. This year, I’ve been working on taking emotional breaks.

Boy, does that sound bogus! Catholics don’t have time for squishy, feel-good nonsense like that! We’re too busy with the salvation of our souls to worry about – ptui – “emotional rest,” right?

Well, let me tell you . . .

Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly.


Image: Steve Snodgrass via Flickr (Creative Commons)